Since the start of the war in Syria, the number of marriages that involve a Syrian child under the age of 18 has risen from 13% to 32%. A large number of these children are among the Syrian refugees living in Jordan. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, this rise is likely due to the pressures and challenges of life inside refugee camps. Many parents of young girls may feel that their daughters would be safe from the war if they were married to Jordanian nationals. Additionally, precarious economic situations and challenging living conditions are likely to encourage families to marry off their daughters to ease their financial responsibilities.
For one fifteen year old Syrian girl currently living in the Za’atari Camp, this rise is concerning. Two years ago, Omaima Hoshan started campaigning after she saw several of her classmates and eventually her best friend leave school to get married.
“They would come to the school to say goodbye. They were 12 or 13 years old. I remember thinking they were making a big mistake, even before I knew the facts. [My best friend and I] were always together, and she was one of the best students in our class. She didn’t want to get married, but her parents thought it was the best option for her.”
Omaima has not seen her best friend since the day she came to school to say goodbye.
“When I see young refugee girls at Za’atari camp getting married, and they are under the legal age, it scares me. Girls from my home have their future lost or destroyed. This is something I cannot accept.”
Omaima campaigns against child marriage and works as an outreach volunteer within the camp. She runs workshops for both parents and teenage girls that discourage early marriage and provide an outlet for those who want to speak out, covering topics such as the dangers of early pregnancy and the opportunities that will be lost without an education. However this is by no means an easy feat and Omaima often comes across both young girls who are eager to get married, and family elders with no sympathy for her cause. At Za’atari, there are volunteer counsellors who speak to girls getting married under the age of 18, and talk to all parties involved. However if a child and her family all agree to the marriage, there is nothing that can be done.
“Often, I and others will go with the girls to speak with their families, who tell us it is none of our business. Usually they are very polite, but fathers especially can sometimes be strict. I find it is easier to convince the mothers, and then they can influence their husbands.”
“And then there are the girls who are led to believe that getting married is a wonderful thing. They think that if they wear their wedding dress and put on make up they will be happy on the first night, the second night and even the tenth night. But then what becomes of them? Their bodies are not ready for childbirth, and emotionally they are not ready to be wives and mothers.”
Omaima takes her inspiration from Malala Yusufzai, the Pakistani Nobel prize winner who campaigns for female education.
“My mum bought me Malala’s book and I’ve read all about her life and work. She is a great person and she is very inspirational.”
“My father is proud of me. He encourages me to speak up and to be eloquent. When I feel encouragement from him and my mother, I feel strong. I have to fight for women’s rights.